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New play-in format will hurt Crook County High School playoff chances

New format leaves fewer play-in spots, and includes automatic qualifiers to playoffs
As members of the two-team Special District I, Crook County teams have already had a difficult time reaching the play-in round in several sports.
   Now that task is going to be even harder. For the 2012-2013 school year, the OSAA?has made a significant change to the play-in format and the first round of the state playoffs.
   After two years with the play-in model, numerous athletic directors complained about the format. They reasoned that league champions should automatically be included in the state playoffs. As a result, the athletic directors requested the new format, which was subsequently approved by the OSAA. Under the new format, eight teams receive automatic berths into the first round of the playoffs. The eight teams include seven league champions and one at-large berth.
   There are actually eight Class 4A leagues. However, Special District I, which is currently composed of just Crook County and Redmond’s new Ridgeview High School, is not recognized as a full league by the athletic directors. As a result, the seven other league champions each will receive an automatic berth into the playoffs. Meanwhile Ridgeview and Crook County drop into the at-large ranks.
   The eighth and final team receiving an automatic berth into the playoffs will be the highest-ranked teams from among the Special District I champion and the second-place teams from each of the seven other leagues.
   That is where the problem for Crook County is likely to be. With schedules that are stacked with Class 5A opponents and no credit for playing against teams from a higher classification, Crook County teams have frequently found themselves in the bottom half of the power rankings.
   The result has been that during the past two years, several Crook County teams have had to travel to play highly-ranked teams either in their play-in game or in the first round of the state playoffs.
   With the format change, it is likely that problem is going to become even greater. With power rankings determining the final team that has an automatic berth into the playoffs, no Special District I team that is ranked outside of the top eight will have any chance to skip the play-in games and automatically qualify for the state championships. The same is not true of any other leagues. Last year, several league champions were ranked as far down as 19th or 20th in the final power rankings.
   Of even greater concern is how the play-in berths will now be determined.
   Any league runner-ups that did not receive a bye into the playoffs will now host one of eight play-in games. The highest ranked number three teams and/or Special District I teams will host the remaining play-in games. The remaining non-automatic qualifiers will then be placed into an at-large pool with the eight teams with the highest power rankings earning the final play-in berths.
   In the past, the Special District I champion was guaranteed a play-in game. Now, with the new rules, no Special District I teams are guaranteed to get a play-in game, let alone an automatic berth into the playoffs.
   The good news for Crook County is that the change in format does not include sports such as tennis, golf, track and field, wrestling, and cross country, which are considered individual sports.
   However, baseball, softball, football, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, and volleyball are all included in the new format.
   Volleyball should not be impacted by the rule change. Last year, they finished the regular season with the number one power ranking. If the team lives up to expectations this season, they should finish with a high enough power ranking to automatically qualify for the playoffs and skip the play-in game.
   If the current format had been in place last year, neither the boys or girls soccer teams would have received play-in games. In addition, football, baseball, softball, as well as both boys and girls basketball would have been at risk of being eliminated from contention prior to the play-in games.
   The irony of the new system is that athletic directors contend that their goal is to ensure that the top teams are automatically included in the playoffs. Now, in the interest of rewarding league champions, they have made it likely that solid teams from Special District I may not even have an opportunity to qualify for the playoffs even after winning their respective league.
   It remains to be seen if any Crook County teams that might have a chance to place at state will actually be harmed by the new format. However, what is certain is that Special District I is not being treated the same as other leagues. Consequently Ridgeview and Crook County would be wise to look for another Class 4A league to join. Remaining in the current system is likely to exclude deserving teams from playoff contention. That is unacceptable.